Monday, May 20, 2024

Editor apologizes to Indian Americans, Vivek Ramaswamy for ‘racist’ cartoon

A US newspaper editor has apologised to Indian Americans for publishing an “offensive” cartoon that played on stereotypes of the community while trying to criticise Vivek Ramaswamy who is seeking the Republican Party’s presidential nomination.

“Racist and hateful ideas, words or images have no place in our publications, much less our society”, Tom Martin, the executive editor of the Quad City Times said in the apology to the community and Ramaswamy published in his paper on Friday.

He said that the cartoonist, Leo Kelly, has been banished from the newspaper.

But Ramaswamy came to the defence of the cartoonist in a letter published in the paper. “Let’s not go further or see people get fired over it; the cartoonist should in no way be ‘cancelled.’ We are all human”, he wrote.

“I’m empathetic to people who make mistakes once in a while”, he wrote while accepting the editor’s apology.

The cartoon sought to show Republicans as bigots with whom Ramaswamy was aligned, but it backfired as it was someone opposed to that party and the candidate who used the anti-Indian epithet.

The Quad-City Times is a regional newspaper based in Davenport, Iowa, which also covers parts of neighbouring Illinois. It is owned by the media company Lee Enterprises which publishes over 70 newspapers across the US, including the Dispatch-Argus, which also published the cartoon.

“We apologise today for letting such an image slip through our editorial process and into our opinion page Wednesday in the form of a political cartoon,” Martin wrote.

He added: “The cartoon, while intended to criticise racist ideas and epithets, uses a phrase that is racist and insensitive to members of our Indian American community.”

The phrase apparently is “Get me a slushee, Apu” that a character in the cartoon is shown shouting at Ramaswamy in an almost empty hall. “Apu Nahasapeemapetilon” runs a store in the popular animated TV cartoon serial, “The Simpsons”, and spoke in an exaggerated Indian accent voiced over by a White American comedian, Hank Azaria.

“Apu” has been turned into a racist taunt used against Indians, especially for bullying school children. The problem was highlighted in a documentary, “The Problem with Apu”, produced by Indian American comedian Hari Kondabolu. Because of protests over the way Apu was presented and how it became a tool for harassment, the character was taken off the show but has returned occasionally with non-speaking background appearances.

Azaria has repeatedly apologized for his role in spreading the stereotype of Indians telling an interviewer, “I did not know any better”.

After the cartoon was published, Ramaswamy tweeted, “It’s sad that this is how the MSM (mainstream media) views Republicans. I’ve met with grassroots conservatives across America & never *once* experienced the kind of bigotry that I regularly see from the Left.”

“Iowa’s @qctimes absolutely has the right to print this, but it’s still shameful”, he added.

Ramaswamy and Nikki Haley, the Indian American candidate for the Republican nomination, along with Tim Scott, an African American senator seeking the nomination have come for intense criticism from Democrats and their supporters who believe that non-Whites should be loyal only to their party. The cartoon sought to convey the idea that Ramaswamy was under bigoted attack by Republicans with the other characters shouting “Muslim” and “Show us your birth certificate” while he greets them saying “Hello, my MAGA friends”. (MAGA standards for Make America Great Again, a rallying cry of former President Donald Trump taken up by the Republican right.)

“It is the dripping disdain from the far left — the elite condescension from the Democrat Party — that we will never escape”, said Emily Compagno, a conservative TV host, referring to the cartoon.

(Arul Louis can be contacted at arul.l@ians.in and followed at @arulouis)

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